Sidelined since April 14 because of a strained oblique, Carpenter (2-0) gave up three hits and struck out four over five scoreless innings. The Cubs avoided a second straight shutout when they tallied with two outs in the ninth on pinch-hitter Micah Hoffpauir's RBI single. Chicago had runners at first and third, but Ryan Franklin struck out pinch-hitter Reed Johnson to end the game and pick up his 10th save.
"We had a chance in the ninth and just didn't get it done," Piniella said. "Our starting pitching has been the key to why we're over .500. It's given us a chance in the vast majority of our games to win a baseball game."
Ryan Dempster (3-3) notched his fifth quality start and held the Cardinals to six hits over seven innings but took the loss. He walked two, both intentional.
"It's going to happen during the year [where] we go through some tough little stretches," Dempster said. "But we're in this together, and the best thing for us to do is look at it and say we didn't give up and had the tying run on base and the winning run on base and just came up a little short.
"We keep fighting and playing the way we are, and those games will eventually be on our side."
Carpenter may have befuddled the Cubs, but Dempster didn't make it easy on the Cardinals.
"We beat a hell of a pitcher, too," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Dempster's as good as anybody."
The Cardinals tallied in the fourth when Albert Pujols led off with a double, advanced on a sacrifice and scored on Chris Duncan's single. Duncan doubled to open the seventh and eventually scored on pinch-hitter Khalil Greene's sacrifice fly.
Dempster was asked if he's had tough stretches like this before.
"I try to forget about yesterday," he said. "I'm trying to forget about today."
Derrek Lee was more even keel than Piniella regarding the back-to-back losses.
"Let's not blow it out of proportion," Lee said. "It's two games. Carpenter, that's the nastiest pitcher I've faced all year -- Chris Carpenter. No excuses, we're professionals, we have to score, but let's not blow it out of proportion."
Several of the Cubs took early hitting at Busch Stadium. They're averaging seven runs in their 21 wins, and less than three a game in their 17 losses.
"Look, until we get some of these batting averages up, forget how many runs we're averaging," Piniella said. "You don't score runs with smoke and mirrors. Basically, you've got to get these averages up and on-base percentages up, and then you can start looking at how many runs you score and don't score."
The Cubs were a good hitting team last year and somehow are 21-17, even though Milton Bradley is batting .193, Mike Fontenot is hitting .200, Geovany Soto .202 and Lee .230.
"You always have a few people struggling, but not four or five in a lineup," Piniella said. "When that improves, then you'll see our offense pick up and do things with a lot more consistency."
The problem isn't a lack of pregame swings.
"These guys are working," Piniella said. "Extra work is not a problem. It's just a question of taking it on the field and doing it there. Like me, I hit the ball on the practice range pretty well. I can't wait to play a round of golf, and I always shoot 90. You've got to take it on the course."
What can Piniella do?
"I've thought about it a lot, believe me," the Cubs manager said. "While everybody's sleeping, I'm up. I don't know. I've got to be as patient as I possibly can to give people ample opportunities to shake out of it.
"Hoffpauir's hitting .300, [Koyie] Hill's hitting .300. Sooner or later, I've got to do something. Let's hope these guys start hitting the way they're capable of and we can mix and match and rest our people. It's a struggle at times for us."